66th IFLA Council and General
Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August
Code Number: 141-175(WS)-E
Division Number: III
Professional Group: Mobile Libraries: Workshop
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 175
Simultaneous Interpretation: No
"Epos" - Norway´s floating library
Anne Marie Oevstegaard
Møre og Romsdal fylkeskommune, Fylkesbiblioteket
This service is unique in Norway, although we have a lot of bookmobile buses throughout the country, there is only one boat. This boat operates the west coast of Norway, with its fjords and its islands, and is a joint service between three county libraries. The first floating library service was started in 1959 in Hordaland, and in 1963 the current boat "Epos" was built specifically to serve as a bookboat. At that time the counties of Sogn and Fjordane, Moere and Romsdal joined the service. It is still an important part of the three county libraries´ services. Although infrastructure is changing, and roads and bridges are being built, there are still localities most easily reached by boat. The bookboat is 80 feet long, it carries approximately 6000 books, and visits 250 small communities twice a year. The services of the bookboat are funded over the budgets of the three county libraries, with a refund of 50% from the state.
Working on the bookboat
The bookboat sails from September to April, and each trip consists of 64 days in the three counties together. Every day we stop at one to four places, and the average time alongside quay is one to two hours. And during this short and busy period of time we receive sometimes 150 children, with teachers and parents as well - sometimes only a few, depending on the size of the place, and the time of day.
Two of the staff from the county library work together on every trip, and the crew of the boat counts the captain, one able seaman and a cook. We all live on the boat for as long as each trip takes.
The winter season is dark in Norway, and it is a good season for reading - but it is also the stormy season. When the wind grows too strong, and the waves get too high - the only thing we can do is to seek shelter in a hideaway harbour. But this is the exception, and we only give in to the weather gods when we are absolutely forced to do so. The bookboat is known for its punctuality in following the route, and it is a disappointment for everyone when the weather is too rough for us to reach one of our harbours.
But as you understand it is a challenge to be a librarian on the bookboat, one of our qualifications has to be that we do not get easily seasick!
Services of the bookboat
Children´s books are a major part of our book collections. In our service we give priority to children, and they are our principal users. Every commune in Norway has a public library, many of them also with several branches. Our three counties on the west coast have many small communes, and a landscape with islands, deep fjords and high mountains that make communications more difficult than in any other part of the country. We find in our communes many small communities without any public library branch, and where the main library is difficult to reach, especially for the children. Their only library is the school library, and in the small communes the libraries of the primary schools are very small and almost non-existing. Even in a rich country like Norway the importance of school libraries is not appreciated and many of them are not equipped to meet the children´s needs in todays´ modern school. So for many of the children the bookboat is actually their main library.
The reason for sending the bookboat to these small communities is the same as with all mobile libraries, to bring books to where people are. Even today we find that children are excited by the mere experience of visiting a boat. And while they are on board we get the chance to show them what the library contains, a library with a lot more books than they are used to seeing in their own school libraries, and with a staff that will help them find suitable books. I beleive that this in itself is a stimulation to further reading, and to the discovery of the world of books. They can pick as many books as they like, without limitations - many children take as much as they are able to carry - their supply for the next months.
The bookboat´s collections also include books for adults, and we have several faithful adult patrons that come to get their book supply for half a year at the time. We also have the more occasional visitors that come out of curiosity to see what we have, as well as the parents who follow their children and then happen to find something of interest to themselves as well. During the day we mostly meet the elderly and the young mothers with small children, since all the others are at work, but in the afternoons and weekends we are visited also by the parents and other grown-ups.
Since we only visit each place twice a year we need a system for circulating the books in between our calls, to make the service as much of a library service as possible. We therefore leave book deposits at each place, that vary from 50 to 300 books each time, and change these the next time the boat calls. There is a "contact person" at each place responsible for lending these books, collecting them before our next visit and returning them to us. Usually this task is performed by a school teacher, but sometimes also by an interested private individual - not all the small places still have their schools left.
We always offer live entertainment as well as books, such as theatre, puppet theatre, a writer reading his/her stories, music or other performances suitable for children. The schools and the kindergartens are very grateful for this. It is free of charge to borrow books, and to attend the entertainment, this is part of the public cultural budgets in the three counties. We see this as a very important part of our service since the rural districts has very little to offer in terms of cultural events, especially for children, and for 41 years now the bookboat has been the stage were many young children meet live performers for the very first time. We feel that it is part of our responsibility to show existing alternatives to television and computer games, that consumes so much of children´s time, - reading as well as other experiences. Therefore we choose our entertainers carefully, and use professionals with high quality performances. The artists that travel with us also get an experience other than usual, since the bookboat is a very intimate stage to play on, and they get very close to their audience. We use the library itself as a stage, with the children seated on the floor and on small chairs, crowded around the scene. The artists also meet a challenge in the variety of their audience, during the day we mostly have school children and kindergartens that come to visit, but in the afternoon it is open for the whole family, so the audience consists of small children and of grandparents as well as parents, with a variety in age from 0 to 100 years old.
The three county libraries have their own collection of books which are moved on and off the boat after every trip in each county.
The bookboat carries only a small library, approximately 6000 volumes, and we choose our purchases carefully, trying to meet the needs of our users. Nearly half of the holdings are children´s books - and for the children´s department we purchase about everything that is published in Norwegian, an average of 400 titles a year, in 3 to 5 copies. We have also started building up a small collection of audio books for children. The adults´ department consists of new fiction, a selection of the classics, and have an emphasis on leisure reading - with a smaller amount of popular non-fiction books. But of course we also help our readers who have more specific needs. Any book that the bookboat doesn`t carry in its collection can be sent to the patron from the county library, free of charge.
Finally I have to say that working on the bookboat is a very special part of our job that we enjoy very much, the boat takes us to the small places that we seldom visit otherways, and our service brings us very close to our users. In the county library we mostly deal with the other public libraries and spend the rest of the year in an office, so to meet the young and old readers face to face is always a pleasure.
Holmaas, Stig and Sunde, Helge: Epos : boka om bokbaaten. Bergen, 1998 ( With a short summary in English)